A project that was three years in the making has been turned on.
Back in the fall of 2013, the Louis Bull First Nation embarked on moving toward a more sustainable and environmentally friendly footprint that has now seen its first phase completed. The band hosted an open house Sept. 30 to officially flip the switch on the project.
The project included the installation of solar panels on four buildings in the community located just east of Highway 2 and north of Highway 611. The panels are designed to generate power and contribute back to the community in the way of economic savings that can be reinvested into other programs and projects.
The largest installation is on the adult learning centre with 160 panels that will generate an average of 44,000 kilowatt hours (kWh) of electricity annually while the other three buildings are smaller — the fire hall/public works building with 100 panels with an average output of 27,000 kWh and both the health centre and Head Start building each housing 40 panels that will average 11,000 kWh.
It’s estimated the annual savings could be around $7,500 each year, though that amount could be higher depending if the band is able to sell any of its unused electrical generation back into the grid.
Louis Bull First Nation Coun. Desmond Bull is the driving force behind the project, who initially brought forward the idea after seeing what had been done on the nearby Montana First Nation.
“I felt we needed to try and develop something similar, but we didn’t know where to go,” he said.
That’s where Randall Benson and his first nations company, Gridworks Energy came in. The Edmonton-based company has been leading the charge on solar energy project design and installation for 16 years while also plugging into the educational side by developing a training program for the industry.
It was that training that first got Bull and his idea moving in the right direction.
“Myself and another band member took the five-day course that gave us the tools and showed us we could operate our own project,” Bull stated.
“It also helped us achieve our goals and enabled us to get an energy audit done on our buildings.”
That took a year to complete, which was followed by a lot of paperwork and applications for funding were approved last summer. It concluded with four more band members taking the training course to operate and maintain the system, installed earlier by staff from Gridworks, with some assistance from the trained band members.
Meanwhile, Benson explained it took two months to install the panels on the four buildings and this particular project shows just what is possible in what is still an emerging industry in Alberta.
“My hope is this helps promote the idea for other First Nations that they can get on the way to energy independence and also generate some great, and green, jobs too,” he said.
Also on hand for the launch were representatives from Greenpeace plus the federal and provincial governments, all of which applauded Louis Bull for their initiative.
“We were part of the initial discussions and hope this project helps promote, as an example to other First Nations, what is possible and the benefits that they can derive,” said Greenpeace’s Mike Hudema.
Alberta’s Indigenous Relations minister Richard Feehan agreed that Louis Bull could be a model.
“It’s forward-looking people like them that can make things happen and I’m elated that they are embracing the future and ensuring the land will remain strong, vibrant and sustainable for generations to come,” Feehan stated.
Bull added the band is now looking at more potential solar projects.
“We are searching for more to do with the understanding that we need to continue with our environmental stewardship of the land for the sake of the future,” he said.